These Cocksuckin’ Tears: An Interview with Pat Haggerty, the First Openly Gay Country Singer
Long before the current crop of openly queer musicians were comfortable declaring themselves to the world — and before many of them were born — Pat Haggerty was singing gay country music on the album Lavender Country. The songs, including the amazingly-titled “Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears,” was forgotten for years until it was recently rediscovered by music buffs. Now, the 1972 project has found a new life, and Pat is once more finding himself performing songs that were revolutionary over 40 years ago.
A new documentary short examines Pat’s work, his life and the impact he still has to this day. It’s called “These C*cksucking Tears” and is currently playing at festivals. We scored an exclusive interview with Haggerty, but before we dive in, let’s hear the song that made him famous.
Unicorn Booty: You mention in the documentary that you were pissed off at straight men in 1972. Why was that?
Pat Haggerty: I was pissed off at straight men in 1970, not because they were straight. That had nothing to do with it. In 1970, almost all straight men were educated to believe that “fags” were dirty and sick and that’s the way they treated us for the most part. It was in fact dangerous to come out to probably 50 percent of straight men at the time and another 30 percent were homophobic as hell.
There were a few straight men at the time who “got it”, but not many. Many, many straight men at the time honestly believed that they had and deserved more rights than women, blacks, gays, elderly, disabled etc. You must remember that civil rights legislation didn’t happen until the mid 1960s. Before that, straight white men were for all intents and purposes the only group who did have civil rights.
Where did you learn to write and play music?
I had “a little” music education in elementary school. I was self-taught for the most part, especially guitar playing and songwriting.
Today, country music is associated with more conservative parts of the country, and some people in the gay community stigmatize the music. Was that the case in the 1970s?
In 1970, there was no genre of music that was friendly to gays, so it didn’t matter — all genres excluded us. Gays who stigmatize country music are dumb fucks; then and now. It is not true that conservatives tend to prefer country music. Anyone and everyone can appreciate country music. It is generally true that the black community doesn’t “cotton” to country, though I have met plenty of blacks who did like country music.
A conservative politic overtook Nashville country music publishers and “big boys” in the industry, and they control the politics to this day. But country music listeners are, in fact, very broad-based and all types of people love it. Many lesbians in particular are devotees of country. When “The Judds” became popular in the 1980s, a lot of lesbians that I knew just went nuts.
What part of the country were you in when you recorded the album? Did you feel comfortable being openly gay there?
I was in Seattle when I made the album (Lavender Country). At the time, it was one of the best places in the country to come out. I doubt anybody in 1973 “felt comfortable” being out and gay anywhere; it was testy and sharp for most of us, and we all had to be prepared for “a fight” wherever we were.
It took a full 15 years after Stonewall for anybody to “feel comfortable” being gay anywhere in the country. Certainly Seattle lead the way nationally for gay rights. I would say Seattle, San Francisco, Los angeles, New York and Boston were the leading cities for gay right in the 1970s.
Whose idea was it to record an album?
It was my idea to record the album. But as soon as I proposed it, I got a lot of support from the out lesbians and gays in Seattle. Without community support, it would have been impossible spiritually, psychologically, financially and every other kind of way. I cannot overemphasize the importance the community-backing played in producing the album. It truly was a community effort in every way.
Did you stay in touch with the other people who worked on Lavender Country?
Yes I did. (Keyboardist) Michael Carr and I remained great friends for years and years, as he was a gay activist with a politic very similar to mine (I mean radical Marxist). Michael married his longtime partner, Henry, and they live in Philadelphia. They both remain active in the gay and Jewish communities, and have consistently maintained their Marxist political views.
I lost touch with (lead guitarist) Robert Hammerstrom for years, as he was not gay nor radical, but I have hooked up again with him recently. He went on to have a great career in country music. He remained in Seattle and has a recording studio in North Seattle. He joined us last year for a Lavender Country show. (Fiddle-player) Eve Morris was a lesbian activist in Seattle for years, though not a Marxist. We remained in contact for many years, but she moved to Miami, then Europe in later years, and I have been unable to locate her for about a decade now, though I have tried.
Robert perry, the main producer and fundraiser of Lavender Country, was a dear friend and housemate for years. He lives in California now but we have remained good friends throughout the years. He has helped out a lot in recent years with the rebirth of Lavender Country and remains a dedicated and loyal fan. Another person I would mention who was a great supporter of the project was faygele Ben Miriam, noted radical gay activist in Seattle for decades. He has passed on. Faygele and I were fabulous friends, co-activists housemates and soul mates for a lifetime. I miss him terribly.
Lesbian activists Rae Larson, Lois Thetford and Ann Manly were also great supporters of the Lavender Country project and we have remained lifetime friends. Lois and I share a daughter born in 1973, the year the album came out. I could mention many other people who played critical roles in the production and distribution of Lavender Country. Again, it was a community project from inception, fundraising, production, recording, sales and Lavender Country performances at the time.
How challenging was it to find venues where you could play Lavender Country live in the 1970s?
Lavender Country performances at the time we released it were strictly limited, and I do mean strictly, to the occasions when out gays and lesbians congregated: gay prides, symposiums etc. There were no other venue available to us at the time; absolutely none. I believe the last performance was in 1976. There was little or no opportunity for gay country to go anywhere, and the project died. All this was obvious to all of us at the time, and we predicted an earlier death than it actually had. But then, as you know, it came roaring back to life 42 years later!
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The album found a second life after someone uploaded a copy of the song “Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears” on YouTube in 2014. You can read more about that and Haggerty’s history in Seattle during the city’s first-ever Pride event here.]
What does it mean to be a “country” person?
To me, being truly country means coming from a rural, farming/country background, gardening, farming, milking cows and chopping chicken’s heads off for family consumption; stuff like that. Many people in the industry who profess to be country, actually aren’t. Being country means, I guess, liking country music.
Most people who are country music fans are actually lifetime city dwellers. Thinking country people are “bumpkins” is a ridiculous stereotype. I grew up just like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn: poor, lots of kids, great mom and pop. I milked cows hundred of times and chopped of chicken’s heads hundred more. I know how to grow a garden and set irrigation pipe, plow a field etc. etc. I doubt anybody would describe me as a “bumpkin”, certainly not a conservative one. But I am as country as they come; so are a lot of other progressives and radicals.
When you were performing in the 1970s, were there gay people who were uncomfortable with how open you were?
Most gay people in the 1970s were extremely threatened by anyone who was out proud and visible. Being exposed as gay at the time was a risky proposition for all of us, in or out of the closet.
You said that your music has the following message in common with punk rock: “A lot of things wrong with the establishment. Fuck you guys.” Do you feel like any contemporary LGBT-musicians are conveying this sentiment? If so, who and what do you like about it? If not, why do you think musicians aren’t conveying that and what would it take for them to start (if they even need to)?
There are a lot of musicians who are gay, and many of them are out on the job and to families etc. But almost none of them actually SING about it. It’s still the big no-no to get up and sing it. Those of us who do do tend to have a radical view of society and ourselves, and we are consequently unrecognized if we do. Lavender Country is a huge breakthrough in this regard.
Almost all the gay people I know who sing about it are still unrecognized by the larger society, and even unrecognized in the gay community. Here is a real element of homophobia in and out of the gay community when it comes to openly gay music, especially gay male performers. In fact, the gay community has been decidedly unfriendly to gay performers who actually get up and sing about it. We are almost always “bumped of the stage” by straight so called up-and-coming “hip” musicians, even at gay prides etc. This is a very sore point among gay musicians who actually do gay music. It would help a lot if we were actually supported by the community, but we are not, for the most part. This is a hurdle we need to overcome.
The recent upsurge in Lavender Country is due, not to the gay community, but to the young, progressive punker, fuck-you types who recognize Lavender Country for what it is and think it needs to be broadcast to the population as a whole. Lately this has broadened out to include up-and-coming straight country music artists, for example in St. Louis and Portland, who have been helping me out immeasurably. I would say the musicians community — not necessarily the gay community — is responsible for the Lavender Country upsurge. This is certainly true for my label, Paradise of Bachelors, who are a straight label and come, interestingly, from the south (North Carolina).
You said that having a “bucket of sex” was never an issue for gay men; having a relationship was. In this age of mobile phone hook-up apps, has that changed for the better or worse? If better, what changed it for the better? If worse, what could help it improve?
Trust me, we didn’t need the internet in 1970 to have a lot of anonymous sex — it was everywhere. The internet has made it easier and less time consuming, perhaps. It’s not about sex, but about learning how to be intimate with men, something we were not trained to do, and we’re sorely lacking in skills because of it.
While there is still rampant sex going on, I would say that the younger generation of gay men have done a little better at actually having intimate, loving relationships. We are learning along the way. I don’t regret all the anonymous sex I had. I do regret the lack of intimate connection that seemed to go along with it. As I said this is improving.
I do not have negative judgments about having anonymous sex. I do have negative judgments about men’s ability to love one another truly, whether gay or straight. The world would be a lot better off if men knew how to love each other.
What do you think about queer country music today? Does it exist? Do you listen to it? It is getting better or worse?
Queer country does exist. There was, for a time, a lesbian gay country music association of gay country musicians, and we had 30 to 40 members, but it is currently inactive. I know a few of them personally. But we remain for the most part unrecognized. Lavender Country is breaking through, for sure, but the others of us could really use a boost. Queer country in evolving for the better, for sure. One artist in particular, Mark Weigel, is a really talented songwriter and singer. He lives with his partner in Sonoma County and runs a book store there. Mark is a fabulous country queer; I wish someone would take a serious look at him.